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Money, Stress & Wellbeing

Money stress & Wellbeing

Bolster Risk Management

Last week was Money Week in New Zealand. It is a good time to talk about financial wellness, resilience and financial mental health. It has huge impact on individuals, families and communities. It also impacts on business. Productivity, absenteeism and revenue are all directly and indirectly affected by the financial wellness of your team. If your team are busy thinking about how to pay the bills, they are not thinking effectively about their job performance.

Key points:

  • The state of our nation (in terms of personal finance)
  • Presenteeism is even worse than absenteeism
  • Is the ROI of Employee Assistance Programmes worth it? (Spoiler – yes, up to 12x)


The State of the nation:

I say quite often that personal money is personal. And it is. Yet… Because it is so personal, there are unseen barriers for people who may need help. Some of these barriers will be people thinking that they can ‘sort it themselves’, and then they do nothing until it gets too bad. Sometimes the obstacle is pride, not wanting to ask for help, that it may appear a sign of abject failure. Needing to ask someone’s advice on how to manage our money can feel humiliating.

It may be that boss isn’t inviting these discussions openly enough, most likely, because they are unsure how to approach the topic with their team.

What seems apparent from the research, is that money worries are not really discussed at work. And if they are, they are certainly not discussed with the boss – not at least until it is too late. It can be difficult trying to explain that you took a sick day because you didn’t have enough money to buy fuel to get you to work (yes, I’ve heard that one before).

There are plenty of studies that are coming out now, relative to New Zealand. I talk quite often of the Financial Services Council. They regularly survey Kiwi’s to gauge financial literacy and their sense of ‘wellbeing’ with regards to money.

Some findings in their Resilience Index – May 2021 are quite startling though not unsurprising:

56% of people are financially unprepared for retirement (and yet… it is even worse…)

  • 21% have no household investments
  • 29% have less than $50k
  • 21% have $50k-150k

This group alone makes up 70% of the people surveyed.

So for perspective, 70% of people have less than $150,000 in preparation for retirement. At a time when we are living longer, and ‘retirement’ maybe for decades.

56% of people have financial issues which affect their wellbeing

  • 40% financial issues that adversely affect PHYSICAL health
  • 54% financial issues which adversely affect Mental health
  • 51% financial issues that adversely affect Relationships with family & Friends


When taking these results and looking at the demographics, it shows that it is tough for anyone in the mid-thirties or younger. Just looking at those who worry daily or weekly about money:

  • 57% Generation Y (<37years old)
  • 8% Generation X (38-52 years old)
  • 1% Boomers (52-72 years old)
  • 8% Pre-Boomers (>73 years old)


Te Ara Ahunga Ora (or The Retirement Commission), also publish interest data on the impact of financial stress on relationships. This is where we start to see the impacts of this type of stress in a much wider context.


19% of people (1 in 5) have interpersonal relationship problems due to financial concerns

  • While those with little or no income (under $10,000 per annum) were most likely to experience financially driven interpersonal problems (28%),
  • high income did not protect from money conflicts – 21% of those earning $150,000 to $200,000 reported financially-driven inter-personal problems.


Other groups with high rates of interpersonal issues due to financial stress included respondents:

  • who had children aged 0-4 years (27%),
  • Māori (27%),
  • Pacific Peoples (28%)
  • those renting (25%).


In their 2020 report, the gender gap in terms of financial knowledge is very noticeable and across all ethnicities.

  • Women have lower financial knowledge than men; twice as many men as women answered all questions correctly.
  • Women who have children have lower financial knowledge score than women without children,
  • single women with no children have a higher financial knowledge score than women in a relationship
  • The gender gap is largest for those in understanding simple and compound interest.


This observation about simple interest and compound interest has come up before in the research from the Financial Services Council. It is significant, because long term investing, KiwiSaver and debt all rely on using interest calculations. Combating the lack of understanding in this single area could have dramatic social benefits.

This is especially relevant when the 2021 survey showed that “Women are, on average, better than men in a range of financial capabilities related to day-to-day money management”. Giving women access to better education and guidance around compound interest, could positively improve the net results of these surveys over time.

Bolster Risk Management

Presenteeism is even worse than absenteeism

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER), was commissioned by Xero to look at wellbeing and productivity at work. The findings mirror others, which all demonstrate that productivity is negatively impacted by low wellbeing and high stress.

Presenteeism is when health, including mental health, affects or prevents an employee’s ability to perform adequately while at work. The headline point showed that 80% of lost productivity is due to people still working but at reduced capacity. Additionally:

  • Performance decreases as the severity of mental health increases.
  • The effect on co-workers and management of having to fill in for or manage impaired workers
  • the effect of depression and mental health impairment was a decrease in productivity of between 6.6 % and 10.1 %
  • the average loss in productivity due to mental wellbeing challenges was 22 hours per week.
  • Productivity loss due to presenteeism 6.6%-36.4% for impaired Mental Wellbeing


For absenteeism, there is up to a 20% productivity loss, with absenteeism costing a range between 1.4 and 2.6 days per year to the business.

Southern Cross and BusinessNZ ran a workplace survey in 2019 that showed that when the average number of days lost, is projected across the New Zealand workforce, 7.4 million working days are lost due to absence. Each employee’s absence may cost the employer $600 to $1000 a year.

Basic Advice

Is the ROI of Employee Assistance Programmes worth it?

There are a range of initiatives and programmes that companies and employers can use. The big question though is, what is the pay-off, or the return. Some will obviously help their staff, because they have the budget and the culture that makes it easier to run employee benefits. Other managers and leaders may need some more convincing.

When times are good, it is easier to open the company coffers, but when times are heading for trouble, ‘excess spending’ can seem superfluous to the business plan.

How then can you justify allocating budget to employee programmes? Even when you know that absenteeism might be costing your firm up to $1,000 (as above).

Change in employee wellness doesn’t have to be massive and extreme. Changing financial wellness can happen when employees feel they have more control. It happens when they feel like there are some support mechanisms in place, should the worst happen. People link financial decisions to their values. Employers can help to instigate this change quite often for very marginal costs.

The Commission for Financial Capability (or the Retirement Commission) has also studied how to bring about behavioural change. In this context, behavioural change happens when:

  • People who felt out of control realise they have the power
  • People realise they can do something small and achieve a big result
  • People learn something they absolutely believed to be true, is not true
  • People get the support to overcome the fear and anxiety and to face their finances
  • People link financial decisions to their values
  • People see an implementation that works for them
  • People realise they are not alone in their situation

This assistance may be in the form of coaching & workshops, resilience training and education about financial wellbeing.

Deloitte looked at the mental health of employees and discovered that for every $1 spent to help the mental health of employees, $5 dollars are returned. Spring.kiwi suggest this ROI may be as high 1:12. “Financial wellbeing is about giving people choices. It’s having the skills, knowledge, confidence, and motivation to make informed financial decisions”.

Te Ara Ahunga Ora say, “supporting and managing the wellbeing of employees is beneficial for the productive output of the business they work for and critical to lift the real wages that drive economic wellbeing in New Zealand”.

There should no longer be a debate about the ROI on helping employees. Happy, healthy employees are more productive. It can take huge courage to raise a hand and ask for help. How about making that whole process easier? Give people the tools they need to take control over their finances. Yes, money is personal. But that doesn’t mean we should abdicate our responsibility to empower people to learn and use simple tools to help change their life, in a meaningful way. Teaching a person to fish is a far better method of helping NZ Inc improve our productive output.













Dominic started Bolster Risk Management to help people along their personal finance journey.

He believes that personal insurance is the bedrock to financial security and wealth creation. You have to protect your greatest asset, your ability to earn an income. 

Underpinning this is a philosophy that says Your Money Matters.